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State receives large grant for DNA evidence testing

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The Chairman of the Organization of Exonerees and Prosecutor David Leyton weigh in on why testing has become more important.

FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - More money is on the way to exonerate people who were wrongly convicted. State attorney General Dana Nessel announced on Tuesday that her Conviction Integrity Unit received a federal grant worth $550 thousand.

The money will go toward employment and logistical costs involved in DNA testing for potentially-exonerating evidence- a program she began in 2019.

"It's an amazing feeling to know that people are recognizing this and trying to help," said Kenneth Nixon, Chairman of the Organization of Exonerees in Michigan.

Nixon served nearly 16 years in prison before being exonerated in early 2021.

He sayid that while it wasn't DNA that saved him, he sees the program as part of a larger shift.

"A lot of the efforts that are happening in 2022 were not happening in 2002 or 1992. There's a huge awareness and a huge awakening to criminal justice reform," he explained

It's something Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said he's seen in the system first-hand.

"The world of criminal justice as changed dramatically. And it's causing us to have to review a lot of these guilty pleas or convictions," Leyton said.

He added that requests for case review often happen when new details come forward.

"We have one case that just came back to us from the Michigan Supreme Court where a key witness did recant- signed an affidavit that he did not tell the truth at the time of the trial. And we're gonna have to take another look at that case," he explained.

Nixon said he hopes the program can help spare the wrongfully-imprisoned from the type of trauma that still haunts him today.

"Things still trigger me. Rattling keys trigger me. Sometimes certain smells can trigger me."

Nessel said her Conviction Integrity Unit has exonerated four people since its founding in 2019.

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